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Analysis

MPs and EU will squish new Cabinet fudge

by Hugo Dixon | 23.02.2018

There are two big problems with the mushy compromise Theresa May brokered at her Brexit war cabinet last night. It won’t fly with Parliament, and it won’t fly with the EU either.

Fudge was served big time at the prime minister’s dinner at Chequers. Soft Brexiters were happy that our rules would be aligned with the EU’s for quite some time to come. Hard Brexiters were thrilled that our rules would be able to diverge from the EU’s.

The FT says: “The ‘right to diverge’ would be overseen by a dispute resolution mechanism, imposing market access sanctions if either side tried to disrupt the level playing field. There would be a mutual recognition of each other’s rules and regulators.”

May now needs to present her mushy plan to the EU, which has already rejected it in slides published online just before the Chequers meeting. As I argued in The Times this week: “The EU will not agree to be tied up in endless discussions with us about what is acceptable regulatory divergence and what is not, and what should be done if we do diverge.”

What’s more, the same parliamentary alliance that defeated the government on the “meaningful vote” amendment before Christmas could drive a horse and coaches through May’s new Brexit “plan”. Jeremy Corbyn looks set to back a rebel Tory amendment to the Trade Bill calling for us to stay in a customs union in a speech on Monday, according to the Guardian and The Times.

Anna Soubry, one of the leading Tory “mutineers”, has just put down a new amendment that seems designed to get Labour’s backing. It calls for the UK to stay in “a customs union with the EU” (see NC5). This is a slight softening from her previous amendment which pushes to stay in “a customs union with the EU in the same terms as existed before exit day” (see NC1).

It’s not just Labour which will find it easier to back the softer amendment. It will be easier for Tory rebels too. So far nine Conservative MPs – including Nicky Morgan, Dominic Grieve, Ken Clarke, Stephen Hammond and Sarah Wollaston – have backed one or other of the amendments. There were 11 mutineers before Christmas. So the government is already in danger territory.

It seems clear, therefore, that the prime minister’s Chequers fudge is going to be squished. If we are also to avoid border controls in Ireland, something May’s fudge doesn’t do, we will need both a customs union with the EU and regulatory alignment but without her new non-solution of “managed divergence”.

The big question is not whether the prime minister will have to rip up her plan, but how much longer she can kick the can before facing reality. With yesterday’s mushy compromise, she has bought herself some time with the Cabinet. Meanwhile, she will delay a confrontation with MPs by pushing off the debate on the Trade Bill for up to two months, according to The Times.

But May will eventually run out of road. At that point, there’s a good chance that her Cabinet will be ripped apart and we may then even be able to stop this whole Brexit madness.

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    Edited by Luke Lythgoe

    2 Responses to “MPs and EU will squish new Cabinet fudge”

    • So “she will delay a confrontation with MPs by pushing off the debate on the Trade Bill for up to two months,”. That gives sufficient PMQs to destroy this ridiculous government and PM if only Corbyn would learn to ask follow-on questions and pursue May. If Corbyn can’t handle this kind of questioning then he should let someone else with more ability do it…Starmer for example. May excels at not answering or answering a different question. Corbyn seems to work from a question checklist. Right, asked that question, now go to next question. In his own way he is as robotic as May, and missing so so many opportunities to skewer the lady.

    • I wonder if the 7 Sinn Fein MPs might consider making an appearance at Westminster on this issue?
      They have always maintained rigid ‘abstentionist’ stance on the grounds that they do not want to legitimise UK control over the six counties, however….
      By not voting they are open to attack from the Nationalist SDLP, just a year after they took their last 3 seats in the Commons. The SDLP will be able to say (accurately) that if they had won those seats they would have lined up with the Opposition parties and the Tory rebels in supporting a Customs Union. Would Sinn Fein want to risk making the SDLP credible again?

      An argument could be made that Sinn Fein should take part in this debate because freedom of movement in the island of Ireland is under threat, and they suspect the Tories and the DUP are paying lip service to non-reintroduction of checkpoints and crossings. They could also reserve the right to vote again if in their view ‘the peaceful unity of the Irish people is threatened by Britain.’

      This will be a step too far for some in their ranks, but they did end their abstentionist policy in relation to Dail Eireann, and have grown in numbers and influence in the south of Ireland since.

      Sinn Fein represent all but one of the border constituencies at Westminster, and the vote in Parliament will be after the anniversary of the Easter Rising.
      I’m not wishing and hoping, but just saying….